Read Time: 6 mins

Written by Michelle McDonagh

Originally published in August 2020. Updated in October 2020

Employers – How to Create an Ongoing COVID-19 Strategy

 It seems ‘the new normal’ might be more long term than we originally thought. As business owners, this means we have to think about how we can sustain our businesses indefinitely amid the COVID context. During the March 2020 lockdown, our initial response involved firefighting and making short term decisions to get by. Now late 2020, we need to apply the lessons learned over the last seven months and make more strategic decisions.

Covid-19 strategy image

COVID-19 HR Strategy

What should already be in place:

  • A COVID-19 Response Plan
  • A COVID induction for staff returning to the workplace
  • Adjustments in your work settings in line with protocols (or in progress)
  • Annual leave and public holiday entitlements clarified and taken/scheduled
  • Analysis of whether or not the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme(EWSS) applies to your business
  • Research on what business supports are available and if your business can benefit
  • Clear, written, signed up-to-date terms and conditions of employment for all staff

How to Create an Ongoing COVID-19 Strategy

1. Take a caring approach to staff

2. Create a remote or flexible working policy

3. Create an organisational chart to reflect current roles and responsibilities

4. Keep Communicating with your Staff

5. Allow Staff Time to Adapt to New Work Situations

1. Take a caring approach to staff

With the announcement of a second lockdown this month, many companies who had reopened and were gradually rebuilding their businesses have had to close their doors once again. This means staff who were back to work have had to be placed back on lay off or back on the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS), often with no top up to wages/salary.

Staff Morale May be Affected

These changes can have severe financial impacts for families in the lead up to Christmas in addition to losses made earlier in the year. Within companies, this will show itself in low morale, poor productivity, loss of staff, increase in conflict as frustrations are heightened, increased stress levels etc. Companies should do as much as they can to limit the financial impacts on staff.

All decisions to keep some staff working while others are put on lay off should be examined carefully. The reason for a differential of treatment must be based on objective reasons e.g. length of service, business need. Consider if you can keep staff on EWSS while asking them to complete proactive work to support the business after lockdown.

Support Staff with Financial Advice

Speak directly to each of these staff members to make sure they are receiving the best financial support they can get. They may be better off on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), Short Time Work Support or EWSS or using annual leave or a mixture of the above. Support your staff to understand their options and process the paperwork as quickly as possible. Employers can top up payments (if they have the means to do so) but are not obliged to do this.

Companies who have been in a position to allow staff to work remotely may also see negative effects of lockdown on their teams. Their personal context has changed and the social opportunities they had to balance the isolation of home working have reduced. They may be feeling more anxious and for some who were looking forward to coming back to the workplace, they now face uncertainty again and any issues they were having while working at home now have no end point.

The situation is different for every business but the message is to look at your own set of circumstances and act now to protect your teams. If you want to give your business the best chance of fighting back after lockdown and competing to grow, you have to seek to maintain your greatest asset and competitive advantage…. your people.

2. Create a remote or flexible working policy

Recent polls are showing that most businesses expect to have dual working practices into the future. Indicators like employee satisfaction and productivity have risen. This means staff will be given the choice to work between a remote location and the company premises indefinitely. On the other hand, collaboration has been more difficult and the ability to build relationships and trust through small talk is losing out. Many businesses have drawn up temporary COVID-19 remote working policies, which are not contracted permanent changes. In August 2019, a new EU Directive came into force: the EU Directive on Work-Life Balance. Member states have three years within which to implement the Directive. For both of these reasons, now is the time to launch longer-term policies to give guidance to staff on how to apply for remote/flexible working arrangements as a contracted change to terms of employment.

Living through the pandemic has reminded us of the importance of life outside work and commuting. People want to make permanent changes in light of this to avoid falling back into the old patterns. A recent survey by jobs.ie showed that 40% of employee surveyed said they would like to continue to work remotely and almost 50% would be happy to do both.

Taking a proactive stance on this allows companies to clarify their intentions in this regard, may stop team members resigning and will ease anxiety that people are carrying about being asked to return to the office.

Creating a Work from Home Policy Eliminates Grey Areas

Businesses do not have to grant indefinite permission to all staff who want to work remotely. Creating a policy allows you to take control of the process, set out the boundaries of how decisions will be made and specific requirements you may have for all remote working staff e.g. automatic trial period of 12 months. It also allows an opportunity to set out what is expected from staff when working from home in terms of dress code, responsiveness, work flow management etc.

Read our blog about Managing Employees who are Working From Home here.

3. Create an organisational chart to reflect current roles and responsibilities

Ensure the business can present a written organisational chart to explain how it is structured. Every person should be reflected by a role on that chart and every role should have a job profile behind it listing role purpose, key accountabilities, skills and experience required.

Create Revenue Projections for the next 12 months

Then work with your accountant to analyse the revenue streams for each part of your business and examine projections for the next 12 months.

Plan for Likely Scenarios

Engage in scenario planning to explore what changes may need to be made and at what milestones the decision should be made.

Create an Action Plan and Review it Weekly

Generally, a short-term action plan should come from that session and direct focus on what is within our control day-to-day to manage the unfolding situation. A weekly review of this plan should allow progress to be tracked and changes to be made for the following weeks actions.

4. Keep Communicating with your Staff

In times of uncertainty and change, there can be a tendency to withdraw from interactions with others. Now more than ever, the managers and leaders of organisations need to step forward and inspire confidence in their teams.

By engaging in the exercise in step 4, businesses can give direction to staff about what is within their control. It creates activity through short term action plans and reviews. It creates a sense of collegiality or togetherness in doing what we can, as a team to get through and be innovative in creating solutions. Be honest about the path ahead. There are no guarantees of avoiding difficult decisions but the alternative is at best stagnation and at worst despair and panic.

Giving people a sense of purpose and an opportunity to achieve or complete something will support employee well-being.

You don’t need to have all the answers.

It is okay to not have all the answers – no one does. The focus is on making progress every day with the cards we are dealt.

Actively engage in exercises to improve communications at all levels, whether its manager and employee one to one’s, e-coffee catch ups, team goal setting sessions, individuals performance reviews & development planning, all hands/town hall meetings, update memo’s, social events online, mental health support sessions online, sharing resources, intranet, success / happy news stories, employee surveys, focus groups etc.

5. Allow Staff Time to Adapt to New Work Situations

The context we are now operating within has thrown up challenges in how different generations and different personality styles are adapting. Not everyone is coping particularly well. For some, the fear of catching the virus personally or bringing it home to family/friends is a real threat. Other people in different situations may not understand just how frightening that is.

In DISC behavioural profiling, we talk about the S for Steadiness. It measures the pace and consistency at which we like to work. Those scoring as a dominant S will really be struggling with the constant need to change quickly. This pressure against how they prefer to live life is a great cause of stress and will inhibit their performance over time.

Allow time to consider these factors, often outside peoples control. They are not always being difficult for the sake of causing trouble. Take time to understand the issues and work collaboratively to figure out how to move forward.

Let us know how you are coping with the ongoing COVID-19 situation in your business.

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If you would like to discuss any Human Resources matters with Aspire HR, email us now at michelle@aspirehr.ie

or call Michelle on 086 878 2557

©Aspire HR. This document is intended to be a general guide only.